Saturday, November 15, 2008

Drama Queens

The unavoidable gossip beginning late Thursday and continuing all Friday has been Hillary as Sec of State. I'm flummoxed by the whole notion. If No Drama Obama needed any more evidence of what this would bring his administration, the very fact of the firestorm of talk about Hillary, the Drama Queen (and I use the term in its non-gender specific, and non-sexual preference sense) should be convincing. Hillary comes fully equipped with her loud mouthed loyalists, partisans to the core, including some certifiable morons (Lanny Davis) and louts (Howard the Wolf.) Plus the Big Dog.

Meanwhile the stories are battles of contradictory sources. Some say she's been offered the job. Others say there was one discussion, to see if she is interested (and perhaps, one would guess, if she'll submit to being vetted, including questions of Bill.) Some say the Obama team is behind the talk or isn't sufficiently denying it, others say that after Clinton, Obama interviewed Bill Richardson, and he hasn't told anyone who he favors. (Which sounds like his usual modus operandi at this point.)

I don't know these people, I don't know what Obama knows, but from where I sit, it's a bad, bad idea. Hillary is toxic, if only for her people and their brand of vicious partisanship. How can Hillary and Bill Richardson be in the same Cabinet after all the Judas crap of the campaign? And Richardson has to be in this cabinet. I think he's best positioned at State--an outward looking post, a groundbreaker for Latinos, as he represents the U.S. in the world. He's an experienced diplomat and administrator; Hillary is neither. She may be very knowledgeable, which might make her a decent National Security Advisor, but anywhere in the White House she's going to inspire intrigue, second-guessing and backbiting. If not by her, then by her minions. And there is always, always Bill, who not even she can control. If Obama is really considering her--and there are also reports that there is substantial opposition to the idea within Team Obama--then he is a lot more confident/sanguine/tolerant than me, but I see it as, at best, a huge drain on the energy that needs to be focused. Team of Rivals sounds great, but it has to be a team, and I don't see a team player--at least one capable of controlling the rowdy elements she brings with her.

But...there are a few puzzled and doubting journalists among the enthusiasts for the story, with a heavy dose of vituperation from Al G. at the Field, who believes the media frenzy is being generated by vengeful Clintonians who want to deny State to their enemies, Richardson and John Kerry. I'm not quite sure of the logic of this part, but I share the feeling that this is being generated by Clinton loyalists, for whatever reason (like they have to have any.)

And while I'm on my high hobby horse, I was glad to see Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders go public with their conviction that Joe Lieberman needs to be replaced as chair of the Homeland Security. I'm with them, and not with wusses like Evan Bayh. It's one thing not to hold grudges. It's another to subvert your agenda and complicate what's already a complicated situation in the Senate with competing agendas you can avoid. Leiberman is another Drama Queen.

In Alaska, Dem candidate Mark Begich is now up 1,022 votes, with 24,000 left to count next week. He needs to be ahead by about 1500 to avoid a state-funded recount, which in any case doesn't sound like the ballot-by-ballot hand recount that Minnesota conducts. Sounds like he has a pretty good chance of achieving what he needs without a recount.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Transition and Other Gossip (Plus Farewell to Ted the Felon in Alaska)

Part of why the media and blogosphere are full of misinformation and leaping to conclusions is that this transition is just damn exciting. People are excited! Polls show that ordinary Americans are even hopeful, and the likelihood of sweeping change is exhilarating.

So as long as you and I understand that this is all just gossip, why not indulge? Some of the credible names I'm spotting for Secretary of Health and Human Services: (Dr.) Howard Dean, Kathleen Sibelius (who took on Blue Cross in Kansas) or Tom Daschle (wrote a book on health care crisis.) Sibelius is also mentioned for Commerce, Education, Energy--does this mean she won't get any of them? Not that every appointment has to be a Big Name, but those are interesting ones. The actual jobs could just as well go to folks like James Lee Witt at Homeland Security, or James Comey at Justice.

Bill Richardson is still mentioned for State but also for Interior. That would be interesting, too, though it would be really neat if at last the Interior Department is run by a Native American. Tammy Duckworth is mentioned for both Veterans Affairs and Obama's Senate seat; Max Cleland is the other Veterans Affairs name.

Other big names I mentioned before and still think are credible: RFKjr., Janet Napolitano.

Big names being mentioned I really don't see in the Obama Administration: Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore (though I'd be surprised if he wasn't a special envoy to the climate treaty next year), Richard Lugar, Colin Powell (don't think he wants another go-round), Ahnold. I do see a job for Mrs. Ahnold. I'm kind of agnostic about John Kerry for State. I don't think it will happen, and he's going to be an important force in the Senate.

Scientific types are really excited about the return of real science to the federal government, and are watching appointments like Director of White House Science and Technology Policy, and some key ones at lower crucial levels in the various departments. They're interested in what kind of scientist, what level of expertise, anything that signals policy. So far, some are pretty impressed with the relevant people on the transition team.

Meanwhile, the progressive blogosphere is very impressed with the transition Internet appointments, and the prospects for the first wired White House.

As for how the administration will work, Karen Tumulty isolates another quote from John Podesta's presentation Tuesday: President-elect Obama intends to continue the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council. The important policy coordination role will be maintained in the White House. ... There's a central function of policy development coordination that takes place at the White House in conjunction with OMB. What he's looking for in a cabinet is people who are very strong, who can carry out the mandate, the missions of those agencies, and do it across the priorities that he's laid out to get the economy moving again, to get jobs moving again, to get wages growing again. "

Ambinder sees a transition paying a lot of attention to process, and: Obama seems to understand that the way he manages the White House during the first few week is absolutely vital to the smooth functioning of his administration after that."

Good news from...Alaska? Oh yeah. At close of business Wednesday, Democrat Mark Begich has erased Ted the Felon's 3,000 vote lead and now leads by 814 votes. With remaining votes to be counted Thursday (maybe Friday, maybe Monday as well) reported to come from Dem districts, Nat Silver sez Mark Begich is now an overwhelming favorite to win the Alaska Senate seat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reader Beware

I've been harping here on maintaining skepticism of reports on what Obama is and isn't going to do, who is and isn't going to be appointed, and what Obama does and doesn't want others to do. For increasingly good reasons. There's the pre-spin by people who have a self- interest. There are trial balloons, floated by similarly self-interested people as well as perhaps by the Obama team. There are the usual misunderstandings, by people overhearing things and reporters interpreting information.

Which has meant for instance that this morning headline gets denied tonight, as in the case of the supposed swap meet Bush and Obama held in the Oval Office yesterday. Or in the interpretation of a signal, which leads to strings of speculation, like on the Obama position on Joe Lieberman's fate in the Senate.

It was widely reported--and still is-- that Obama wants Lieberman's status to remain as it is, within the Dem caucus, and even retaining his committee chairs. But his spokesperson Stephanie Cutter indicated today that Obama's position is that he doesn't hold a grudge, but that Joe the Traitor's fate is up to Harry Reid and the Senate Dems. Well, there's a big difference between saying, Obama is not insisting Joe get thrown out, and Obama wants Joe to stay.

As to what we actually do know, John Podesta held a press conference to talk about the transition--TPM has the best summary I saw. The only thing missing is Podesta's response to a question that wouldn't these ethics rules banning lobbyist influence limit the people who might be appointed or be part of the transition? "So be it," Podesta decreed.

As we simultaneously look forward and evaluate the past campaign, Ambinder has this neat summary of why the Obama campaign was successful, such as Practice what you preach (trust the community organizers), and "Win Bigger/Lose Smaller:" "That was an Obama field mantra. The campaign opened up a field office in Warren Co., Ohio, where George W. Bush won by nearly 50 points in 2004. Well, Obama lost Warren County... but by 37 points. That's a big improvement. Losing by smaller margins in those smaller counties is how Barack Obama won Ohio."

And here for the record is another account of dancing in the street
on election day, this time in NYC. As I've said many times, if it wasn't for vicarious experiences, I wouldn't have many experiences at all.

In the continuing adventures of the three missing Senate seats, here's the latest on Alaska. Sounds like we could know a lot more Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Shannyn Moore reveals that election "irregularities" are not new in Alaska--for instance, 2004.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Electoral Map Quest

Map Quest: Top map shows presidential election results. Note that Missouri is still undecided--as of today, McCain is ahead by fewer than 5,000 votes with at least 7,000 ballots to be evaluated and counted. The second map is from the New York Times: the blue areas are where Democrats gained (not necessarily where they won.) In part, this reflects the Obama campaign philosophy of "win bigger, lose smaller." By the way, Obama's popular vote % is now 52.6 to McCains 46.1. You can ignore the Alaska map--there are more than a quarter of the total votes cast that are still to be counted.
Transition Watch

For the time being, I'm going to post little tidbits and political gossip over here--the kind of stuff that doesn't fit the more thematic Dreaming Up Daily blog. I posted here on the election principally because I wanted to have these posts on the same blog as posts on prior elections, for archival purposes mostly. With the very small traffic this site gets, its function apart from thinking aloud for a few friends and other readers has to be a kind of info diary, and to collect an archive that might be useful to someone later on.

Anyway, in today's information flow: Howard Dean is stepping down as DNC chair, a traditional move after a presidential election. My guess is he will be replaced by David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, who has said he won't be going to the White House.

Obama's approval rating is near 70%, and 65% believe he has the potential to be a good President.

Barack and Michelle visited the White House Monday, the drafty old mansion built with slave labor. Apparently, Michelle's mother will also be moving in; she's been the primary babysitter for the Obama girls during the campaign, and this should help make the transition easier on them. So save the mother-in-law jokes.

As for further appointments and actions, my policy is to stick with actual announcements and on the record statements by the people who actually have top level responsibilities. Because there's a lot of hoo-haw out there, some of which may simply be to further the agenda or prospects of the source. So I view statements on Obama's policy on Gitmo trials and the intelligence agencies as not credible. But the on the record statements on the Sunday talk shows about Obama's plans to issue executive orders immediately on key items are very credible (although actual decisions on these were denied Monday.)

Sometimes the rumors fall all over themselves, as in this one-day chronicle of rumors on who might be appointed to fill Obama's Senate seat: it started with one African American woman (Valerie Jarrett) and winds up with another (Cheryle Jackson.) Jarrett, an Obama confidant, is instead likely to wind up in the White House, according to anonymous Obama advisors, who seem more credible because they're responding to the earlier story that she was Obama's choice. Jackson might be the Governor's choice, but other frequently mentioned names are Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Tammy Duckworth.

On the outstanding Senate seats, a couple of stories indicate that Obama political operatives are in Georgia to help the Democrat, and that Obama may make an appearance on his behalf for the early December run-off. McCain and maybe Palin may appear for the notorious GOPer incumbent. Meanwhile, Nate Silver figures that Franken has a good chance to win the Minnesota recount after all (it also may not be settled until December), and early signs are that the Democrat may yet triumph in Alaska when more than 90,000 absentee and early votes--something like a third of the total vote--are counted in the increasingly fishy-looking Alaska election. That could happen by the end of this week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One of the post-election front pages that quickly became keepsakes all over the world. Obama has become something of a savior for print journals in trouble.

As an adjunct to the televised version (below), Salon asked some of its contributors to write about their experiences on election day.

I've also taken note elsewhere of the boon the Obama election has been to newspapers and magazines, which have seen editions about the Obama victory selling out. It happened especially to big city dailies on Wednesday, and perhaps figuring this out, it happened to the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday when their front page was full of Obama photos and newspaper front pages from Wednesday. Or so I've heard. Because locally, there wasn't a Chronicle to be found by early afternoon, whereas there were piles and piles of the local daily--with its Obamaless front page.
How It Went Down

Glancing back at pre-election posts, I realized there's no account on this blog of how the election returns actually rolled out. This video compilation by Jed L. provides some idea of the network coverage. Although polls closed in part of Indiana pretty early, the state was a long time in being called. Pennsylvania was the earliest indicator of how it would go, and Ohio was the next really meaningful call--it meant McCain couldn't win. It was California and our west coast states that gave Obama the victory, as soon as our polls closed. Virginia and Florida were called at about the same time, or soon after.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking

That title is painful thanks to the disastrous Steelers game Sunday, but it's apropos.

One big thing happened to the American economy over the weekend, and it happened in China. The huge Chinese stimulus spending plan immediately sent Asian and European markets higher. But it also stole the thunder on the U.S., and ought to be getting wide-eyed attention from U.S. officials, particularly Congress.

About the only comfort the U.S. had was that this economic crisis is shared, especially by China. But such an early and massive step could change that. It should put a lot of pressure on Congress to pass a meaningful and hefty stimulus package, real soon.

As for the general proposition, Monday morning quarterback and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman strongly advises President Obama not to repeat the mistakes of FDR during the Great Depression, which--contrary to CW-- was to create too modest a net stimulus to the economy. While FDR increased federal spending on what we now call infrastructure, for instance, he also increased taxes and didn't help state and local government meet their responsibilities without increasing taxes on their levels.

"My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent," Krugman concludes. "It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little. In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Sunday After

There are two types of Sunday columns responding to the Obama election. One is to marvel at it and what it means, as Frank Rich does. They're great, but they do remind me of a curious lack of closure hereabouts. People keep referring to celebrations, dancing in the streets everywhere, a new attitude in the everday world. Once again, this kind of thing passed me by. I detect a smile now and then in response to my Obama cap, but that's about it. If there was dancing in the street here, it was on some other street. But then, I've usually been in the wrong place at the victorious time for this sort of thing. Oh well.

The second type of column outlines the author's agenda for what Obama should or must do, and in what order. Some of these are worthwhile, like Al Gore's on the Climate Crisis and Paul Krugman on the economy. (Okay, that's a Friday column but you get the idea.) Others are the usual special pleadings based on a single issue or on the author's ego--sorry, I meant insights. These are predictable and generally speaking, ignorable.

There is a bit of ugliness in the post-election reaction to Prop 8 in California, which passed a ban on gay marriages (as did two other states.) The vote itself was pretty ugly, assuming it reflects the actual intent of the voters, which given California proposition history is not at all certain. Manipulating the "yes" and "no" has become a high art of the political marketeers who devise these things. But that a first impulse was to immediate blame of African Americans for how they voted was and remains ugly. It does no one credit. And it doesn't help.

On Friday the President-Elect had a brief press conference. A couple of things he said stand out, although I'm not sure that everyone else got the point. The first was that he would proceed with deliberate haste on cabinet appointments--in other words, not be rushed into making them. And in urging Congress to pass a stimulus package, he said that if they didn't in the lame duck session, he would do it immediately after taking office. He didn't say, he would send a stimulus bill to the Hill in January. He said he would get a stimulus package. Maybe the press didn't pick up on this, but I'm guessing that Congress did.